In his comments on Deuteronomy 31, John Calvin writes something that explains how the reading/hearing of Scripture is properly necessary to worship of God in reverential fear and obedience. If we are not reading God’s word with regularity to remind ourselves of its revealed message, or memorizing and meditating upon it in recollection, should that not lead us to ask how it is that we are worshipping God in following him obediently when we are not listening to his word and holding it in mind?
“There was therefore no business to prevent them from celebrating that festival, whereby God represented to them in a lively manner, how miraculously He had preserved their fathers in the desert. Lest the recollection of so great a benefit should ever perish, the Law indeed commanded them, wherever they might be, to go forth from their houses every year, and to pass seven days under the boughs of trees; but in the Sabbatical Year, when all was at rest at home, it was more convenient for them to go up to Jerusalem from all quarters, that by their very multitude they might the better testify their gratitude. Therefore it is added, “when all Israel is come,” etc. And it must be observed, that in that assembly they were more solemnly pledged, one and all, to keep the Law, because they were mutually witnesses against each other if they should break the covenant thus publicly renewed. On this account it is added, “Gather the people together, men, women, and children.”
But that it might not be a mere empty spectacle, it is expressly commanded that the book should be read “in their hearing:” by which words a recitation is expressed, from whence the hearers might receive profit, else it would have been a sham and ludicrous parade…. To this end, therefore, did God desire the doctrine of His Law to be heard; viz., that He might obtain disciples for Himself; not that He might fill their ears with a senseless and unprofitable clamour…
But whilst no other mode of reading Scripture is approved by God, except such as may instruct the people, so also the fruit of understanding, i.e., that they may learn to fear God, is required in the hearers. But it is undoubted, that “the fear of God” comprehends faith, nay, that properly speaking it springs from faith; and by this expression Moses indicates that the Law was given for the purpose of instructing men in piety and the pure service of God. At the same time we may learn from this passage, that all the services which are paid to God in ignorance, are extravagant, and illegitimate. The beginning of wisdom is to fear God; and on this point all agree; but then each one slips away to his own imaginations and erroneous devotions, as they choose to call them. God, however, in order to restrain such audacity as this, declares that he is not duly worshipped, except He shall first have been listened to.
As to “the strangers,” when their participation in sacred things is in question, I have elsewhere observed that all foreigners are not so called, but only those who, being Gentiles by origin, had devoted themselves to God, and having received circumcision, had been incorporated into the Church; otherwise it would not have been lawful to admit them into the congregation of the faithful; and this is confirmed by the additional words, “that is within thy gates:” which is as much as if Moses had said, inhabitants of your cities, and dwelling together with the people. Finally, when their children are mentioned, reference is made to the propagation of sound doctrine, that the pure worship of God may continually be maintained. He therefore commands that the Law should be recited, not in one generation only, but as long as the status of the people may last; and surely all God’s servants ought to take care, that they may transmit to posterity what they have learnt themselves.“
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